Campaign contributions help St. Johns County candidates gain exposure

St. Augustine Record – USA TODAY NETWORK

Since this bi-weekly column tends to focus on local politics, we are sometimes contacted by officials –– elected and appointed –– who want to meet for a coffee (or a cold beer) so they can explain what actually happens in relation to a draft order. or project that we have editorially discussed.

They promise to provide us with the “scoop”. But we’ve always politely declined their offers because our interest lies in public records — not in unofficial briefings.

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Take, for example, financial disclosure statements and campaign contribution returns filed by candidates for public office in St. Johns County. This is all public information, easily accessible online by going to — the office of Vicky Oakes, Supervisor of Elections. And when you look at the detailed reports, you might wonder why anyone would be willing to reveal so much financial information –– including, for some races, personal wealth –– in order to run for public office that doesn’t pay. often little more than a modest salary. treatment.

Most of the financial reporting requirements are designed to tell us about potential financial conflicts of interest, and that’s very important, but others apparently have nothing to do with financial conflicts of interest. Does it concern us that St. Augustine City Commission nominee Bruce Maguire receives retirement income from Social Security and the Air Force? I do not think so. Voters should be aware of what potential financial conflicts of interest Mr Maguire might face if elected, but I doubt the City Commission will vote anytime soon on issues affecting either of his pension plans. federal retirement.

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Campaign cost

Between 1955 and his death in 1987, former California politician Jesse Unruh (known to lobbyists and colleagues as Big Daddy) spent 16 years in the state assembly and 12 years as state treasurer. the state, but most remembered for the seven words he spoke in 1966: “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

Campaign contributions may not determine the outcome of every local election, but money certainly helps spread the word: direct mail, media advertising, lawn signs, buttons, and more. If someone thinks all they have to do is pay an application fee and make it on Election Day without a well-funded campaign, they will almost certainly be disappointed when the ballots are counted.

Sometimes, however, a candidate’s campaign cup tends to overflow, as evidenced by St. Johns County Airport Authority candidate Jennifer Liotta. In March, she loaned her campaign the colossal sum of $100,000. By comparison, nine other candidates vying for three seats on the airport’s board of directors have war chests totaling less than $10,000 — combined.

For Ms Liotta, it will likely be an entirely self-funded campaign, but for others the road to a hoped-for victory takes a more traditional route. During the St. Johns County School Board election for District 1, Nancy Tray received 74 cash donations totaling $4,565 (about $62 per donation). And to show the detail with which Mrs. Tray fulfills her obligation to declare her income, she lists 0.68¢ of interest earned on her campaign bank account since she was deposited at the office in March. This is what I call a fully transparent financial report.

But such attention to detail won’t be necessary this election cycle in St. Augustine Beach, because each of the four city commission seats up for grabs has only one candidate. In politics, as in sports, it’s called a walk —– giving St. Augustine Beach voters a blank ballot for the city commission. No campaign. No public forums. No promises to keep (or break).

No one has more impact on land use decisions, tax expenditures, and community priority setting than local elected officials, so give four candidates a free pass to the commission table from St. Augustine Beach seems disconcerting to me. You mean that only four of a population of 7,000 (of which nearly 6,000 are of age to run for a commission seat) were inspired to run for office? Hard to believe, isn’t it?

In nearby St. Augustine, however, with seven candidates vying for three city commission seats, there will be no upsets. Good. In my opinion, having seven candidates vying for three seats on the commission beats the heck out of having four unopposed candidates with no obligation to explain their positions on a local issue.

Some races will be determined in August, others in November. In the meantime, it will be up to the candidates to heed Adlai Stevenson’s warning: “The hardest part of any campaign is how to win without proving you are unworthy of winning.”

Steve Cotrell

Steve Cottrell is a former small-town mayor, president of a chamber of commerce and editor of a weekly newspaper. Contact him at [email protected]

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